WASHINGTON — David Low, a NASA astronaut who served on three space shuttle missions before becoming a space industry executive, died Saturday (March 15, 2008) of colon cancer at suburban Reston (Va.) Hospital Center. He was 52.
During his 12 years as an astronaut, he logged more than 714 hours in space while circling the Earth more than 540 times.
In June 1993, Mr. Low was payload commander aboard the Endeavour, launched to recover the free-flying European Retrievable Carrier. Four days into the mission, his third spaceflight, Mr. Low and fellow astronaut Peter "Jeff" Wisoff ventured outside the spacecraft, where they worked for nearly six hours.
Frank Culbertson, a fellow astronaut and good friend who also walked in space, said he knew what Mr. Low must have been feeling as he left the "cozy comfort" of the Endeavour and stepped into the vacuum of space.
"You have butterflies," he said. "You know that everything that's keeping you alive is contained within that spacesuit, and you make sure that everything you do, you do very carefully."
On his first flight into space, an 11-day mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia three years earlier, Mr. Low carried with him a pair of 159-year-old socks that had belonged to Ezra Cornell, founder of the university that bears his name. (Mr. Low had received a master's degree at Cornell.)
At 33, he was the mission's youngest crew member and, at 5 feet 9 and 145 pounds, the skinniest. That made him the obvious candidate for an experiment in which he would cram himself into a vacuum container designed to force blood from the upper body, where it accumulates during weightlessness, into the legs. Scientists hoped the transfer of fluids downward would reduce the fainting sensation astronauts experienced back on Earth.
On his second flight, in 1991, Mr. Low helped to launch the fifth Tracking and Data Relay Satellite and conduct more than 30 experiments related to plans for the future space station.
The rookie crew member had a legacy to uphold. His father, George Low, was a former NASA director who was the first to suggest to President John F. Kennedy in 1960 that an astronaut could walk on the moon within the decade. The elder Low, who died in 1984, also directed the Gemini and Apollo missions.